One of my favorite summertime activities as a kid was catching lightning bugs in a glass jar. That was back when the luminous beetles, also known as fireflies, were in abundance in backyards across America.
Light pollution and development, scientists suspect, has caused the flashy little buggers to all but disappear in urban areas, leaving our summer nights a little darker and less magical.
But fret not. You can still catch the light show at Congaree National Park, a 26,000-acre federally protected forest just 20 minutes from the state capital.
Far from Columbia's city lights, the park attracts a large population of fireflies, including a rare species of lightning bug that can synchronize its flashing.
The process of light production in fireflies is called bioluminescence and occurs in the light-emitting organs of the abdomen. What we think is entertaining is actually a "come hither" wink to the opposite sex.
"You'll see the flashing lights right away," Park Ranger Vikki Pasco said. "The trees at the back of the lake are full of fireflies."
Each species has a particular sequence it uses to attract a mate. In the park, the color of the light you'll see will be either green or white.
The park hosts the synchronous fireflies each year for approximately two weeks between mid-May and mid-June. To protect critical firelfly habitat and provide an optimum visitor experience, the park has established a lottery system to purchase the limited number of tickets available during the evening viewings. Click here or call (803) 776-4396 for more information on the lottery and schedule of viewings.
If you're lucky enough to snag tickets, bring water and bug spray, but leave your glass jars behind. Possessing or removing any natural resources from the park is a big no-no.